There are days when you win at a canter, like India did in the first One-Day International against Sri Lanka. Such victories do well to establish one’s superiority. But then there are days when the only way you can cross the finish line is by pushing yourself to the limit, like India did in the second ODI to win a thrilling contest.
Such victories, perhaps, have more meaning, for they offer a true reflection of the depth you possess. A gritty batting performance by Deepak Chahar is as unlikely as it could get for an Indian side showing the world once again the strength of their bench.
Looking at the way Sri Lanka’s innings panned out and the total they finished with, one would’ve been forgiven for mistaking the second ODI for a replay of the first one. Just like the first game, the hosts won the toss and batted first, they struggled in the middle overs after having a strong first powerplay, before ending the innings with a flourish.
However, that’s where the similarities ended, as the second half of the match could not have been more different. Having chased down 262 in the first game comfortably, India were expected to ease past 275 as well. But they lost Prithvi Shaw and Ishan Kishan — their star performers from the first ODI — with just 39 runs on the board, and Sri Lanka seemed determined to snap their nine-match losing streak to India at home.
The visitors were pushed further into a corner thereafter. Skipper Shikhar Dhawan was removed in the 12th over, Manish Pandey suffered an unfortunate dismissal at the non-striker’s end after getting a start, and Hardik Pandya was sent packing for a three-ball duck.
India had lost half their side at that point with just 116 runs on the board. For all of Sri Lanka’s troubles in recent times, this seemed too good a position to bungle.
However, thanks to four players and three partnerships, India ended up completing a most remarkable comeback. They did face more setbacks and were put under intense pressure, but their steely resolve helped them pull off an improbable victory.
It started with Suryakumar Yadav. The 30-year-old is oozing confidence at this stage of his career, it was visible even in the first ODI when he closed out the game in a hurry. On Tuesday, he came to the crease as captain Dhawan walked back. India were in a delicate spot and needed a partnership. But Yadav seemed under no pressure whatsoever.
He flicked the second ball with disdain over mid-wicket for four and kept attacking the Sri Lankan bowlers. The hosts would’ve wanted to mount pressure at that point, but the manner in which Yadav counterattacked showed how confident he is at the moment.
Yadav registered his first half-century in ODI cricket and that kept India in the game. But just as it seemed he would power his team to a winning position, Lakshan Sandakan trapped him in front to hand Sri Lanka the advantage again.
Krunal Pandya then took the lead and showed tremendous grit in dealing with a barrage of bouncers from the Sri Lankan pacers. The left-hander was attacked consistently with short-pitched bowling but he hung in there to add 35 valuable runs.
When Krunal was dismissed in the 36th over, India were 83 runs away from victory with just three wickets in hand. Their backs were well and truly against the wall and a Sri Lankan victory seemed inevitable.
But that’s when Deepak Chahar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar got together to build a stunning eighth-wicket partnership that turned the game on its head.
First, let’s talk about Kumar. The 31-year-old has ample experience and he used it to perfection with the bat in hand. To begin with, he focussed on holding his end and giving the strike to Chahar. It was only after 21 deliveries that he hit his first boundary. The right-hander didn’t panic at any stage and his calmness was just what India needed to remain in the game.
However, the star of the show was undoubtedly Chahar. For the Indian players, this tour is about creating an impression in front of the selectors as we head towards the T20 World Cup later this year. And the 28-year-old did his case a world of good with a sensational knock.
Like Kumar, he took his time to settle in as the required rate was in control, thanks to Yadav. But as the match progressed towards the end, he calculated his attack to perfection and closed out the game with five balls to spare. The right-hander was smart in playing out Wanindu Hasaranga, who was in the middle of an impressive spell, and stuck to his strengths while searching for boundaries.
Chahar had, perhaps, done enough by keeping India in the chase, but the fact that he stayed till the end to take his team to victory will go a long way in establishing him as a handy all-rounder.
“Obviously we finished on the right side of the result, which is incredible and fantastic but even if we didn’t finish on the right side of the result, it is the fight all the way through was absolutely brilliant, so well done to all of you,” stand-in coach Rahul Dravid said in a video posted on bcci.tv.
“We said they were going to respond, we knew we had to respect the opposition. The opposition was going to respond, they’re also an international team. They responded, and we responded back like a champion team. With our back to the wall, we found a way to break them. So really well done to all of you. Fantastic job.”
India would have liked to dominate Sri Lanka in the second ODI but this win, inspired by Chahar’s grit, will be welcome too. A win that they can take a lot more positives from. Their depth in resources was never in doubt but it is the depth in character shown by the players that will be most pleasing.
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